How to Tie Dye 101
As the saying goes: what goes around, comes around. This summer tie dye is back from the 70s (and 90s, too) in a big way! Scrolling through Shopbop I counted over 40 tie dye t-shirts in various colors, patterns and cuts. Not to mention dresses, skirts, sweatshirts, bathing suits, leggings, tote bags, headbands… the list goes on.
Months ago when tie dye first began appearing in the form of silk DANNIJO slips and cropped sweatshirts on nearly every influencer on Instagram, I knew we were in for a tie dye-filled summer here at TNTP… and I ain’t mad about it! In fact, it’s been a freaking BLAST this past week experimenting with patterns and colors to put together a comprehensive beginners tutorial for you guys.
In this post, we’re covering Tie Dye 101: how to prep, tie, dye, and wash dyed items. As far as patterns, I’ll walk you through some of the most well-known patterns such as swirl, bullseye, and scrunch, as well as a rainbow arc and a funky shibori-inspired technique that creates a pattern of triangles or squares all across your fabric.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts where we’ll dive into more advanced techniques and ideas! But for now, this blog post is the place to learn the basics of tie dye.
WHICH TYPE OF DYE TO USE
- If you’re interested in the easiest and most variety-filled option, I can’t recommend enough Tulip Brand’s One-Step Tie Dye Party Kit, which comes with everything you need (minus water and items to dye) to go crazy tie dyeing up to 36 projects with a veritable rainbow of different colors. Tulip has a number of different tie dye one-step kits in a variety of fun color combos, which you can find here in TNTP’s Amazon shop. The “one-step” in these kit names refers to the missing step of needing to soak garments in a mixture of water and soda ash before dyeing, making these kits so easy to use. Just add water to the dry dye powder in neat squeeze bottles, shake and get dye your heart out!
- If you’re planning to tie dye using fabric dyes other than Tulip’s One-Step dyes, be sure to follow the instructions on the dye package as there are additional steps involved including soaking fabric in water and liquid dish soap, soda ash, and salt. Be sure to follow the instructions on the dye’s package for best dyeing and color results.
IMPORTANT: Dye maintains its potency for only 48-72 hours. I recommend activating only the colors and amounts you plan on using in a given session to avoid wasting precious dye. Keep this in mind when choosing the kits and dyes you plan on using, as well.
WHAT TO DYE
That is TOTALLY up to you! The one important requirement for anything you’re dyeing is that it’s a natural fiber: cotton (100% only!), silk, rayon, and wool are all great options. Acrylic / polyester fabrics won’t work, and neither will any sort of blended fabric.
OTHER SUPPLIES YOU’LL NEED
Dyeing is messy business! Having the following items on hand will help you keep your project, your space and yourself as tidy as possible throughout the process.
- Tub or large bucket of water (for wetting fabric and rising gloved hands between colors)
- Squirt bottles*
- Rubber bands*
- Plastic table cloth* (even when dyeing on grass)
- Paper towels (as absorbent as possible! the thin cheapy kind doesn’t work well for this)
- Rubber gloves*
- Apron or smock (these disposable aprons are great for big groups and parties)
- Gallon-sized Ziplock bags (plus a Sharpie if you’re doing this with friends!)
- Plastic wrap (optional)
- Cardboard + scissors (for square and triangle patterns only)
- Fabric pencil or washable markers (for rainbow arc pattern only)
*Indicates item comes in Tulip One-Step Kits, so not necessary to purchase unless you’d like more rubber bands / table cloths and/or tighter gloves (the gloves in the kit are pretty loose to fit all sized hands).
TIE DYE PREP
It’s recommended that anything you’re planning to dye be washed first with a bit of detergent and nothing else (no fabric softener nor dryer sheet). This removes any potential residue from the fabric and shrinks it down to size if it’s new. For the t-shirts in this tutorial, I skipped that step and the dye came out just fine (in case you want to skip that step too!), however I’m sure the dye would have come out even nicer had I decided to wash the shirts first.
If you’re using Tulip One-Step Tie Dye Kits, prep is only more step: dunk item(s) in water and ring out excess water.
If you’re using another type of dye, be sure to follow the exact instructions on the dye. Don’t skip any steps!
Once your items are prepped and damp, it’s time to tie! Start by choosing your desired pattern, then follow the steps below to learn how to tie your items to get the results you want. You’ll use rubber bands to secure the patterns in place. Be sure to tie your rubber bands snugly to prevent too much dye from leaking between the folds and eliminating white space.
Scrunch & Bullseye
A scrunch pattern is one of the easiest to create. Simply scrunch your fabric towards the center to form either a long snake-like shape like the one pictured above, or a round scrunched blob. Band your scrunched creation going across in multiple directions to secure the scrunching in place.
A classic tie dye pattern, you can choose to do one big bullseye over the entire item (pictured here) or a smattering of smaller bullseyes, like in the example below. To create one large bullseye, identify the point that you want to be the center. Pinch the fabric on that point and pull your item upward from that point to the rest of the fabric drapes down. Wrap a rubber band just below the center point, then tie additional rubber bands incrementally down the fabric until you get close to the bottom.
Smalls Bullseyes, Swirl & Triangles/Squares
You can create a pattern of smaller bullseyes by laying out your fabric and tieing little points around the surface with rubber bands. I recommend spacing out two rubber bands at each point to create two rings on each mini bullseye. This helps ensure the pattern remains true to its name.
Another classic tie dye pattern, swirls are super satisfying to create. Identify where you want the center of your swirl, pinch the fabric in that place, and gently twist the fabric over and over until a swirl begins to form. Once all of your fabric has been incorporated into the swirl creating a big circle, band the fabric like slices of pizza until your swirl feels secure.
Triangles / Squares
Triangle and square patterns are commonly seen on shibori indigo dye creations. The method for both is the same – the only difference being how you fold the fabric in the second step. The first step is to fold your fabric into a long strip. If dyeing a t-shirt, be sure to fold in the sleeves. Next, accordion-fold your fabric in either a triangle or square shape. Be sure you’re going from front to back to create a true accordion fold. Last, cut two pieces of cardboard slightly smaller than the shape of your fold. Sandwich the folded fabric between the two pieces of cardboard and wrap rubber bands around to secure. The cardboard prevents dye from filling in the complete surface of the outside, creating the same negative space that will be revealed between the folds.
This rainbow pattern is particularly fun to create! Start by drawing the top and bottom of your rainbow arc onto dry fabric using a washable fabric pencil or washable marker. Next, gently fan-fold the fabric along each of the two lines so that each drawn-on line begins to appear straight on the top surface of your folds. You may want to pinch the two gathers and pull them away from one another as you go to straighten the folds in between them. Once all the fabric along the arc lines is gathered, band your fabric on each of those lines. Then add bands incrementally between the two outside bands to identify space for each color of your rainbow arc.
This same method can be use to create all sorts of patterns. You can even fold the shirt in half first before drawing an arc to create a classic double-arc rainbow.
The way you tie your fabric is half the battle, and the way you apply is the other half! Follow our suggested application methods below to achieve the results pictured in this post or have fun experimenting with different color placement!
Dyeing is messy business. Before touching the dye, be sure you have gloves on your hands, a table cloth on your work surface, and a smock or apron. Lay out a piece of paper towel slightly bigger than the item you’re dying, and place the item on the paper towel before dyeing. The paper towel will catch excess dye and prevent it from pooling beneath your creation and leaving dye where you don’t want it to go.
Another interesting thing to note is that you can adjust the dye color intensity by playing with the dye-to-water ratio. Tulip’s One-Step dyes are pretty intense to begin with, so if you’d like a more pastel look, shake out some of the dye from the prepped dye bottle before adding water, or if you have a partially empty bottle of dye, add more water to it to dilute the remaining dye.
In any case, you can test your dye colors before applying them to your fabric by squirting a little on a paper towel. The color will be less intense after washing, so be sure to take that into account when deciding if the color is what you’re going for.
Colors that are applied next to one another will inevitably bleed into one another, so placing colors next to each other that look nice when mixed is a good idea. Pink next to blue might create a peek of purple while yellow next to red will create a little orange. However, purple next to yellow will create brownish splotches, which are less than ideal. In short, avoid placing complimentary colors next to one another. If you would like to use a set of complimentary colors next to one another regardless, just be sure to leave ample white space between each section of dye so that the colors can bleed into white, rather than into each other.
The main reason I recommend rubber banding your swirl like a pizza pie is because that’s also how you’ll apply the die. Choose as many colors as you’d like, put them in order of colors that blend nicely together, and apply in slices. Flip your pie and apply the same colors to the back side. This method results in perfect spiral stripes like the example pictured in this post.
Bullseye is simple when it comes to dye. Each banded section can be a different color or the whole thing can be one color! White rings will appear where the rubber bands are so it’s totally up to you what colors you want the bulls eye rings to be.
I recommend dyeing each bullseye “nub” before dying the rest of the item. Take each nub one at a time, hold it away from the rest of the fabric, and carefully apply dye. Each nub can be one color or as many colors are there are sections. Once each nub has been dyed, lay the item out flat and carefully apply dye to the remaining surface area.
Triangles / Squares
This is one pattern that I prefer dyeing one single color, however you can totally add different colors to the fabric to create a funky multi-colored mix. Turn the folded up fabric as you go to make sure you dye each exposed surface. Also, the more white you want to appear, the tighter your rubber bands should be to prevent the dye from dripping inside the folds, so adjust accordingly.
While the example above is covered just in black dye, a confetti of colors looks awesome, as does stripes. Again, just be sure to leave ample white space between colors that might bleed together into brown.
Apply a different color to each banded section in the rainbow order of your choice. You can either wet your item before applying the dye so that the dye flows easily on your fabric, or leave your item dry and massage the dye into the fabric to ensure that it takes. The example in this post was done dry, creating distinct edges on the rainbow. You can either leave the top and bottom of your item white or dye with any color of your choice. I find pastel colors works nicely here.
SOAKING, RINSING & WASHING
Once you’ve completed the dyeing process, you’ve come to the hardest part: waiting! There’s nothing like the anticipation of letting your dye soak and waiting to see how your creation turns out.
When you’re finished dyeing, place each item in a separate ziplock bag or wrap it up with plastic wrap to keep the item moist while the dye sets. Choose whichever method will most easily prevent the different colors from making contact with one another. For example, a long, skinny bullseye might be better off wrapped in plastic wrap like a burrito, rather than coiled up to fit into a plastic bag.
Let your items sit overnight to absorb the dye, or follow the length of time indicated on your dye instructions. In general, the longer you let the dye sit, the more intense the color will be.
Once your dye has set, it’s time for the moment of truth. Throw those gloves back on, head over to a sink or tub and remove those rubber bands to reveal your creations! Rinse each item separately under hot water, rinsing out excess dye until the water runs clear. If you’re rinsing multiple items, be sure not to pile them on top of each other as you go, as the wet dye will transfer.
WASH & DRY
Be sure to wash items right after rinsing as colors can bleed into the white if they sit and will stain those areas. If you need to wait, it’s best to lay your item flat in the meantime so wet colors don’t run onto other parts of the fabric.
You want to wash each item individually with nothing else in the machine. Set load to large, water to hot, and add a small amount of detergent.
Dry each item individually as well without a dryer sheet. Single items can stick to the wall of the dryer so if you have a tennis ball, you can throw it in with the item to ensure it dries all the way.
Wash your creations individually for the next couple washes to prevent remaining dye from staining other items.
And there you have it!! All our tie dye secrets!! If you still have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Instagram at @theneonteaparty. BE sure to tag @theneonteaparty so we can see what tie dye amazingness you create!!! We can’t wait!
Also, MAJOR thanks are due to the Tulip and I Love to Create team for sending us their incredible Tie Dye One-Step Kits! While these kits were generously gifted to us, all opinions are our own and totally genuine. We’re so happy these kits exist to make tie dyeing a total breeze! You can find more Tie Dye One-Step Kits and project ideas here on their Tie Dye Your Summer website!
Happy summer, Tribe!!!
Peace, love & neon,